Friday, February 18, 2011

RAF Watton, Norfolk

My father-in-law served in the U.S. Air Force during WWII and was stationed at RAF Watton in England for 2 years, 1943-45. The Watton Air Base was a 'heavy bomber repair base,' was used for reconnaissance, and was one of the few that was never attacked by the Germans. My husband said, 'Dad always told us that he was stationed at a small base that repaired damaged bombers.  The truth of the matter was, Watton was a huge air base with 4800 personnel. His world was a tiny little corner of it. Dad was responsible for ordering all the repair parts for the airplanes.'

My father-in-law wearing a 1911 Colt Automatic Pistol, standard military issue for that time. The other accessory is presumably a gas mask.

Hard at work.
Actually, this room reminds me a lot of Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms in London

My father-in-law and a buddy at the Woolpack Inn in Norwich

The following are a few photos that my husband and I took when visiting Watton, for we were interested in seeing the area his dad had talked about.

An example of Village of Watton housing. I think this was on the main street.

Photos of the former Watton Air Base:

A hangar

Nearby barracks, typical of the time

A hangar, from the side

Part of the reconnaissance wing was responsible for dropping agents from the Watton base behind enemy lines, including the drop of an agent into the suburbs of Berlin. The entire flight was at night, at treetop level. Imagine that! They also did weather reconnaissance, both over the Atlantic and the Continent with the Atlantic portion involving at least one plane in the air 24 hours a day. The weather flights over the Atlantic involved altitudes of 50' above sea level to 30,000 ' above sea level and lasted an average of 12 hours.

A little beauty admist the decay

So what is happening with RAF Watton now? Most of the land has been sold for housing developments, with a small portion retained by a gliding club. Most of the buildings you see in the photos above have been torn down. Their last military use was in 1992. As of 2007, the landing strip is still in existence and is occasionally used by the RAF for helicopter training.

Standing in that one spot, there are five villages within 6.5 miles.

Where I live, within 6.5 miles is only one village. You have to go 10 miles to get to another one. The five nearest villages are 2 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, and 11 miles. And not one of them looks like a Jacquie Lawson greeting card!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Author, Second Chance - A Tale of Two Puppies
Check out my handcrafted soaps at Soap'n'Such


Anonymous said...

what a fabulous selection of photos and how thrilling to go back and visit where your father in law was based. A shame though to see the buildings in decay and 'everything' seems to be, these days, turned into a housing development. I hope they still retain some of the history of the area.. take care, Judyx

Unknown said...

What great photos of your father-in-law. And of course the ones you took too!! I love seeing into people's's so interesting!

Angela said...

Wow, that 2nd picture of Grandpa looks SO MUCH like Uncle Brock!

Rachel said...

I LOVE this!! I love history! My granddaddy was in the Army in WW2 and spent time in Germany and Austria (and some other places). I have a picture of him somewhere in Austria. I need to find it!

Happy weekend!! I wish I could send you this nice weather!! Maybe you should just come and visit?? :)


Jean | Delightful Repast said...

My husband had one of those WWII gas masks--not sure who gave it to him--when he was a little boy. All he has now is the olive drab sack it came in. He said when his family first started picking up pizzas for dinner, he didn't like the smell; so he wore his gas mask in the car! Isn't that a hoot! Little boys do the most peculiar things.

jennyfreckles said...

It's so interesting to track down your family history. There are lots of these ruined bases across the UK, most now built over (often houses or business parks). But my sister has a working RAF base at the bottom of her garden.

Thanks for your encouraging comments on my blog. It is a nice idea to print and sell some of my work - but because I only use a bridge camera and not a DSLR, most of my photos won't print above about A4 size. I would have to trade up to a bigger camera and that would mean more weight and hassle. So I'm content to just enjoy my hobby for now.

J_on_tour said...

It must have been amazing for you and your husband to visit this place. With the archives of photos that you have both old and contemporary, I am beginning to understand your GB connections a little better.
I can't remember if you are familiar with the BBC series Dad's Army or not (worth a look on Youtube if nothing else), but there were a lot of locations used near here for filming.
Amazing Norfolk village names. It is unfortunate that the only two things I recognise in that photo are ... the two wheelie bins !!

Empty Nester said...

Love the photos! I always wish people would put older buildings back to use instead of having them fall apart. Your father-in-law reminds me of an actor from back in the day---but I can't put my finger on which one- I'm going to have to watch Turner Classic Movie channel until he shows up in an old movie! LOL

Heide said...

It remindes me of something out of Mrs. Minever! Very neat!

Heide said...

P.S. That first photo reminds me of Dick Powell. A very handsome guy!

purejoy said...

what a lovely walk through time. your dad was quite handsome! ;)
i lived in the boston area when i was in highschool. norfolk to be exact. and not far away was north attleborough. never really thought about all the british influence in the naming of our towns {or streets… i live on suffolk, we have a tunbridge, stonehenge, norfolk and essex in our neighborhood now!}

Diane said...

Great pics of your FIL. Thanks for sharing them.

Unknown said...

How interesting! LOVED the flower as a bit of contrast to what "used to be." Thanks for the get-away!

Judy S. said...

Interesting post, Judy. Photos like that, in addition to being family treasures, make history come alive, don't they?

karen said...

Sorry it has taken me so long to looking at your blog and wow! it`s fantastic.
I look forward to having a look at your book and further posts. xxx

Mama Hen said...

This is an amazing post! The pictures are great! It is so amazing how our ancestors have played such a role in shaping the worl we live in today. That is wonderful that you still have these pictures of your father in law. Have a great day my friend!

Mama Hen

Sherry @ Lamp Unto My Feet said...

What great pics and part of history!

Julian Horn said...

Hi Judy - just thought I would bring you up to date on the fate of RAF Watton (Watton being my home town).
I regret to say that the technical site is now completely buried buried below housing, the flying field has returned to private - agricultural - ownership and the runway is now being crushed for ballast.
I was born in, and still live in, Watton and ran a museum on the 'camp' (as it is known locally) for many years. My site at has more information on the station and if you search my site at for 'remembrance' you will see that we still conduct memorial services at Griston on the south side of the airfield - which was the home of 3rd Strategic Air Depot where you father in law was based and also at Watton.
We will remember them.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Came across a link to this post, and it's fascinating. My mother's step-brother was based at RAF Watton - he was killed returning from a raid on Stavanger in 1940 when his Wellington bomber crashed into a hillside in North Yorkshire.


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